I'm sure you all heard the narrative about last week's "biggest game of the playoff era". Oregon lost the last two seasons to Stanford and Michigan State football is basically Stanford's midwest cousin so Sparty was going to roll the Ducks in Eugene.
This tweet from the Solid Verbal's Dan Rubenstein, an Oregon alum, summed up all of the pre-game talk nicely:
You guys, Oregon lost to Stanford, and Michigan State BEAT Stanford soooo— Dan Rubenstein (@DanRubenstein) September 7, 2014
That's how it's supposed to work, right? At least that's what way too many people assumed.
Michigan State put up a pretty good fight for most of the game before the Ducks ran away with it in the end, ultimately winning by three scores. This was definitely shocking to all of the people who went with the "Michigan State is Stanford" logic. It shouldn't have been that shocking to most people though because of this simple fact: Oregon has way more blue-chip players on their roster than Michigan State.
Oregon recruits on a different level than the Spartans and it's not even close. Based on the 247Sports composite rankings, the Ducks have thirty 4 or 5 star recruits currently on their roster. Michigan State only has fifteen.
Yes, fifteen! That's fifteen out of 85 scholarships which is a ridiculously low percentage for a team that is supposed to be competing for a spot in the national playoff.
SB Nation's national recruiting director Bud Elliott said it best about Michigan State being "quite possibly the most overachieving program in the nation" based on the recruiting numbers. It's obvious that Mark Dantonio and his staff have done a tremendous job with coaching and developing their players at Michigan State. Every college football fan has heard how former MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard was a 2 star recruit coming out of high school and the Spartans have players who have developed into blue-chip quality on their current roster in defensive end Shilique Calhoun, quaterback Connor Cook, and running back Jeremy Langford. They are obviously doing a fantastic job identifying players with potential and helping them reach that potential at the college level.
But when you consider that Oregon has players like All-American quarterback Marcus Mariota and one of the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12 in Hroniss Grasu who were also not considered blue-chip out of high school, it becomes a little more clear that schools like Oregon can coach 'em up too.
As for the "Michigan State is Stanford" argument, the Spartans are actually not even close to Stanford in terms of blue-chip talent. Stanford also has thirty 4 or 5 star players on their current roster. The Cardinal are more like the Ducks than the Spartans in that respect. They both may be physical football teams that are strong on defense, but Stanford has recruited a heck of a lot more talent to Palo Alto than the Spartans have to East Lansing.
(If anyone cares to bring up the, "But Michigan State beat Stanford!" part of this, feel free. Just remember that Utah beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and take a look at the difference between those programs since that game. It was a great win for the Utes, but it was not an indicator of how good there program was compared to Alabama's. It's a lot easier to sustain success when you recruit like Alabama rather than Utah.)
As much as many don't like to admit it, recruiting rankings do matter. X's and O's matter too, but they matter a lot more when a program has the Jimmy's and Joe's to fit into their scheme. Oregon has recruited a lot better Jimmy's and Joe's than Michigan State and it's a gigantic reason why they were three scores better than the Spartans on Saturday.